Culture Change? Mindset Matters!

11 September 2023
Lucy Malarkey standing in the background in front of a large presentation screen. She is holding some papers and is delivering a presentation on achieving culture change. In the foreground is an image of attendees at the workshop.

As many of you will know, before setting up our social enterprise, Positive About Inclusion, Karen and I both had long careers in the social housing sector. It’s a sector close to our hearts and one in which we continue to deliver a significant amount of our ED&I consultancy, health checks and training work. 

The social housing sector has its roots steeped in social justice, it’s a sector that, in the main, attracts ethically minded people and a sector that is currently under a huge amount of scrutiny but for the wrong reasons.

Since the dreadful, shameful Grenfell tragedy a spotlight has shone more brightly on the sector and without doubt since then the Housing Ombudsman has sharpened their teeth, publishing a growing number of maladministration judgements against social housing providers. And whilst the symptoms vary in these cases, from damp to anti-social behaviour etc, a common causal denominator is organisational culture. As the Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway, said on the release of the special investigation into Rochdale Boroughwide Housing;

“Our investigation has highlighted that culture change will be central to recovery….[we] found reoccurring instances of residents being treated in dismissive, inappropriate or unsympathetic ways. In some instances, the language used was derogatory. It is highly unlikely that this endemic behaviour of ‘othering’ is isolated to a single landlord and the social housing sector should consider whether they also need to turn over the stone and do a deep dive into their culture and whether they are living their social purpose.”

Organisational culture is however complex, it develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the organisation hires and the behaviours management tolerates. As such cultural change cannot happen overnight and definitely not without deliberate and intentional effort to understand the mindset that drives behaviour alongside any barriers to improvement. To further compound these cultural complexities in many of our large social housing organisations there can be more than one organisational culture – with a distinct variation between culture in the housing operations and repairs and development ‘worlds’ and as a result of mergers.  

Whilst the task isn’t easy, it’s not impossible. There are positive steps that forward-thinking housing organisations can undertake to improve their culture when it comes to general customer interactions and complaint handling, and comprehensive training around mindset, stigma, empathy and bias is certainly one of the key steps.

We have been working with a large national housing provider to support the development and roll out of training around making reasonable adjustments and embedding empathetic behaviours. They had recognised that the mindset of their colleagues varied and that these mindset-driven behaviours were sometimes resulting in barriers to making the right, people-focused decisions.

We developed and subsequently delivered training for this organisation’s colleagues from across the business – from those involved directly in resolving customer complaints to those colleagues working in the repairs, asset and allocations domains, etc. 

Our training focused on:

  • The barriers to making the ‘right decision’
  • Empathetic behaviours – how to develop and grow these
  • Bias and stigma – how these can impact upon our decisions and the way we view the world
  • Challenge – how to challenge effectively and receive challenge constructively 

And we have drawn upon our significant experience from working at senior levels in customer focused roles to bring real-life examples and our varied experiences into the training sessions.

Whilst the training has been really positively received and the feedback from those who have attended has been fantastic, what gives us the confidence that real, positive change will happen as a result is the wrap-around that the organisation with our support, has put in place. 

As we all know, training in a vacuum is just that, without the precursor and follow up then training can be interesting for a day and forgotten soon after…

We are confident about our client’s improvement journey because they have understood that the wrap-around communication across the business is critical. We have worked with them to raise awareness across the management-level of the business – answering why the training is taking place, what the desired behavioural outcomes are and how managers can practically support colleagues.

Furthermore, what this landlord is doing, which is so important, is bringing colleagues from different teams together for the training. They are creating a safe space and not operating in silos. Peer to peer accountability and challenge is critical to effect change and if team members are going to be accountable to each other then they must feel safe enough to feed back and share honestly about how the other is performing.

Whilst culture change can be hard, it’s not impossible and this approach is a great example. This organisation is taking all the right steps to make positive improvements through changing mindset. They quite rightly recognise as Albert Einstein acknowledged that…

 “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.”

Ready to learn more?

With over 50 years of combined experience, we’re the right choice to start you on your inclusion journey.

You may also like:

Reflections on 2023 – What a Year!

Reflections on 2023 – What a Year!

As we move towards the close of 2023, it seems fitting to consider the year that is very nearly over and to look to the future as our thoughts turn towards 2024. What will this next year bring? How will it compare to 2023? And furthermore, how will it compare to the...

Phonetic Spelling and Personal Pronouns – Why Do We Do This?

Phonetic Spelling and Personal Pronouns – Why Do We Do This?

We have supported the Race Equality Matters initiative Race Equality Week since launching Positive About Inclusion in 2020. In support of this year's Race Equality Week (taking place from 6th until 10th February 2023), we're joining the #MyNameIs campaign by adding...

Our Impact Statement 2022

Our Impact Statement 2022

Friends of Positive About Inclusion will know we are a proud social enterprise, a profit-for-purpose community interest company, and we are delighted to use this year's Social Enterprise Day (November 17th) to launch our Impact Statement for 2022. This year's Impact...